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To Keep Reducing Smoking, Washington Leaders Must Restore Funding For Successful Tobacco Prevention Program

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
August 19, 2010

Washington, D.C. — New survey results from Washington's Department of Health show the state's investment in tobacco prevention and cessation programs continues to pay off by saving thousands of lives and billions of taxpayer dollars. However, even as we celebrate these successes, Washington's progress is at risk because funding for the state's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program has been slashed by more than 40 percent and will run out by June 2011 unless new funding is provided. We urge Governor Christine Gregoire and the Legislature to continue Washington's national leadership in the fight against tobacco by reversing the recent cuts and providing reliable, long-term funding for the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.

As the new survey results underscore, tobacco prevention has been — and continues to be — a smart investment for Washington that reduces smoking, saves lives and saves money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs. With all the long-term savings and benefits to Washington taxpayers, it would be penny-wise and pound-foolish if the state fails to restore funding for the program.

Since the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program started in 2000, Washington has reduced the adult smoking rate by a third, from 22.4 percent to 14.8 percent in 2009. According to the Department of Health, this decline translates to 105,000 people spared from premature, tobacco-related deaths and $3 billion in future health care savings. Washington's program has also reduced youth smoking rates by more than half, saving additional lives and dollars. These declines in youth and adult smoking surpass national trends.

Washington has succeeded because it is one of the few states that have used a significant portion of tobacco settlement and tobacco tax revenues to properly fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Washington also has one of the nation's highest tobacco tax rates and a comprehensive smoke-free air law.

However, the evidence is also clear that when states cut or eliminate funding for tobacco prevention programs, progress stops and can even be reversed. The result is higher smoking rates and more tobacco-related disease, deaths and health care costs. This is the threat Washington faces unless state leaders restore and sustain funding for the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. Because of a $1 tobacco tax increase approved earlier this year, Washington is collecting record amounts of tobacco revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes. The state should continue to use a portion of its tobacco money to adequately fund tobacco prevention and cessation efforts.

While Washington has made remarkable progress, the state's battle against tobacco is far from over. Tobacco use remains the state's leading preventable cause of death, claiming 7,600 lives and costly nearly $2 billion in health care bills each year. As today's survey finds, the smoking rates among people of low income and with lower educational backgrounds remain high at 29 and 27 percent, respectively. And smokeless tobacco use is on the rise as the tobacco industry introduces an array of new products and steps up its marketing.

Washington's progress against tobacco would not have happened without the leadership and commitment of Governor Gregoire, Secretary of Health Mary Selecky and state legislators. This progress will not continue without similar leadership and commitment today.